Inspiration comes from the strangest places. I often have flashbacks throughout the day to random memories and times in my life that seem to come completely out of nowhere. I let myself ponder through the things I remember about that moment before I snap back to the present and wonder, “why am I thinking about this?” Sometimes, it’s just the meanderings of memory that take me to that day in high school when I was put in charge of entering fruit orders into the computer for the FFA fund raiser. Not that I was one of the “jacket wearing” FFA members, but I did participate in our “field day” demonstrations by churning butter in a series of jars with a sweet, sandy-haired farm boy who was almost too shy to talk to me. What was his name? I don’t know. I only remember that he liked NASCAR and blushed when I teased him about being too handsome to not have a girlfriend. See? Why the heck was I thinking about entering fruit orders for the FFA fundraiser?
I’ve been working more regularly on a novel this summer, but I’ve been reluctant to share my progress with friends. I have the odd preference of writing in longhand for my first drafts, which means my “second draft” happens when I enter the writing into the computer. I’ve started the second draft process, but I can tell the writing is missing something. I need to add to it to make the situation believable, to make the character seem more like a real person, and to move the plot along without it feeling like it’s dragging. I have the old pang of self-doubt that strikes when I start struggling with a project, but I’m dedicated to working through it. But how?
My character is 18. She’s in the summer between high school and college. And she is in the middle of dealing with a moment of intense family turmoil. How do I bring this girl to life? How do I tell the reader who she is without banging them on the head with a list of likes and dislikes? And how do I do this without making the long-form fiction feel like it’s crawling at a snail’s pace?
Then came the a-ha moment! With a flashback, of course. OF COURSE! Why haven’t I thought of flashbacking (which may or may not be a “real” word) before now? She is not far away from being in high school, so I have to tap into my own “yesteryear” memories to remember the angst of being that age again, being in the midst of a major life transition, and how to deal with complicated relationships between siblings and parents and grandparents. But, she is not me, so I must invent a past for her. I *can* use my own mental wanderings to populate her past, though.
I remember when I was a little kid, I really thought I was a badass. It was a freer, more dangerous time, I guess, in retrospect. I played in half-constructed homes as new portions of my neighborhood were developed. One of those houses was a two-story house–a rarity in the land of one-story ranch-style homes. During an intense game of chase with two boys who were older than me (boys who kept calling me a “baby” and a “girl” like it was a slur and not just a fact of genetics), I jumped from the second-story window of the newly framed house, daring them to follow me. They did not. I remember laughing at the looks on their faces. They were looking down at me from the window, stunned that I had jumped from so high. I was all of 5 and fearless and had legs made of rubber. Ah, how sweet was that victory! I decided to give my character the same sense of “I’ll show you” daring.
Take 10-15 minutes to write down one of your childhood memories. Try to remember as much as you can, especially sensory memories and the way you felt, emotionally. After you’ve captured the essence of that memory, use the same “feeling” to write a new scene for your character. You can frame it as a flashback to your character’s childhood, or not. Maybe you have a character who is a child, so it could happen in “real time.” Maybe you’re character has a child. It can be translated in so many ways. Maybe it will inspire a piece of non-fiction. Maybe you won’t want to change the scene at all–you know how us writers are–always stealing from real life to tell our stories. That’s what they mean when they say, “write what you know,” right?
I was on my way to buy groceries last week when the news came over the radio. Robin Williams was gone. I cried in the grocery store parking lot. I was struck so deeply by it, that I had to find an excuse for my reaction–why mourn so deeply for a celebrity? A person I’d never met. A man who brought joy with his comedy and movies. A man who was manic and candid and childlike and brilliant. He made some of my favorite movies. I remember watching him on a late night show with my mom in the 90s–we laughed so hard, we fell on the floor, wiped tears from our eyes, laughed just as hard 15 minutes later in remembering to one another what he had said or done. He was a bringer of light, even as he dealt with his own darkness.
I have purposefully avoided reading the negative commentary that inspired Zelda, his daughter, to leave Twitter with a bitterly sad note that she may never return. Who feels they should speak ill of the dead in the moments after they have passed, regardless of how they passed? Who thinks it’s justified to spew negativity at a person they’ve never met in the wake of her father’s death? Who does that? Only monsters, in my mind.
I cannot admit to living with monsters, though the evidence is all around me. I have to believe that people like the ones Robin Williams portrayed in his movies are still all around us–John Keatings and Patch Adamses, Adrian Cronauers, Morks, and Chris Nielsens. Teachers who make us think and step out of the cadence and stand on desks all to gain our own perspective. Doctors who see the patient as a human, not a disease, not a problem to solve, not a thing, and who values laughter as a healing tool. Radio deejays who play us the music, who tell us the jokes, who bring us the news, who buck the “man” while still sharing the unifying magic of song. The outsiders who bring us their unique perspective and humor and wonder. Dedicated spouses who will walk with us into hell and back, no matter how challenging the lives we share may become. Those are the people I want to believe are the majority.
And though it is hard to talk about, and though some of us cannot understand the reality of depression, and though we can never know what kind of life another person lives inside their own minds and hearts, we CAN have compassion for another human being who struggles, who battles, and who loses that battle. It’s not easy, and I am sad that this is how Robin left this planet, and I pray for his family to find their way to healing in the days and months and years to come. And for those of us who can imagine the struggle, who can identify with the pain, please know that there is help, there are people who love you, that even though it seems as if there are no more choices, there are. There are. Call 1-800-273-8255 if you are in distress.
Robin Williams, I thank you for the happiness you gave me through your art. You made my life happier and brighter. I stood on my desk in my high school English class to prove a point because of you. Farewell for now. I hope I get to meet you someday. Thank you.
I write. I am a “writer.” I am, however, not what I would call an “author.” The distinction in my mind is the difference between being published and not being published. Authors are published. Writers write.
I have a good many friends who are authors, though, and if I am being honest with myself…I am jealous of their success. I am truly, truly happy for them, but I confess that I am also covetous of their ability to win the acceptance and approval of whatever powers that be that decide: “YES! You! This work you have produced–it is publication worthy!” Huzzah for them. Sincerely.
AND I know I have no room for grousing about feeling jealous or depressed about my own lack of authorhood BECAUSE it’s my own fault. I haven’t *really* tried to become published in the traditional way since I left grad school. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I put a short story on Amazon (about a year ago) to be sold like a Kindle “single.” For 99 cents. And of all the people I know who know I did this…let’s say something like 100 people (a low estimate)…7 of them dared to spend less than $1 on a story I wrote. And these are people I know. It’s demoralizing.
So yeah. Boo hoo. Pity party for me. In all honesty, I wrote a supremely snarky “nobody loves me” blog about the whole debacle, but wisely decided not to post it. Although, in retrospect, it’s pretty damn funny. I mean, if you like snark.
But now that party is over. I am just done wallowing. Because I decided, “If I don’t take my own art seriously, who will?” Self-publishing is one route to take, but just plopping something down on Amazon isn’t going to turn me into an author because I wish it to be so. It’s time to go back to the basics of becoming an author and go about it in a different way.
First, obviously, is writing.
Second, just as obviously, is attempting to become published by TRYING to become published. There is no wishing in publishing, dear self.
Third, is to return to my old methods that allowed me to gain insight and growth as a writer…by reaching out to my friends who are/were writers and get them to share work with me. And if they won’t/can’t, then it’s time to find a new group of writers to bounce ideas off of, and to serve as a voice of reason when I want to put a sasquatch in my short story. Or maybe they will say that sasquatch should stay. You just never know.
And I’m going to take this little gem from my cousin. She is a painter, and recently she quoted a friend of hers who said, “art is an equation; the more you put in, the more you get out.” Such a simple adage, but a good one to remember.
So. Here goes. Taking my art seriously.
Spring is here (or right around the corner, I promise)!
And what does that mean? It means that everything is waking up and feeling frisky!
Why not have your character(s) interact with this transition of the seasons from cold and gray to blustery and bright? Have your most curmudgeonly character experience an awakening, an enlightening of the spirit that comes with blooming flowers and birds singing in the mornings–maybe even feeling young again?
Or have your youngest character fly a kite, dig up worms, or roll down a hill of fresh green grass. Or have a character who is “coming of age” experience the utter gleeful hopefulness that comes with realizing the potential hijinks to be had during spring break. And continue writing those hijinks with afore-mentioned dancing and love-making.
Of course, Spring isn’t only a time of sweet, warm weather. If your character (or you) can’t bear too much happy, or if it just doesn’t work with your story, go for the tumult of storms, surprise snows, terrifying winds, and the possibility of floods that comes with the seasonal defrost.
The key here is capturing the experience of the season while it is happening right outside your window. I apologize if Spring hasn’t arrived on your doorstep yet, but even just the longing for Spring can stir up that craving to “wake up” again from the cold. To feel what it’s like to walk barefoot on freshly thawed earth. To catch the heady fragrance of flowers in bloom.
So, take the challenge and put those desires into the hearts of your characters and see what they do with the urges of Spring!
I got married! Woo hoo! So glad THAT’s over…
SO…now it’s time to start writing again. I don’t know what it is about winter and colder weather and holiday vibes that make my brain go crazy with ideas, but here they are again. It’s like a cocktail party in my head what with all of these characters bouncing around and trying to tell their stories over each other.
So, I’ve devised a plan. A writing exercise based on this cocktail party idea. I really just want a way to tease out the characters, make them less like an amorphous, cacophonous crowd, and more like solid individuals.
First: Name each character with a full name (and if you are so inspired, explain why this person is this person, a la “Her mom and dad had met at the Starlight Diner, and so, logically named their firstborn child after the waitress who served them: Cleo.”)
Second: What is your character drinking at this cocktail party, if anything? Cleo likes Jack & Coke.
Third: What is the character wearing…party attire or “regular” clothes? Just make the clothing true to the character’s style or lack thereof.
Fourth: What would your character be doing at this party? Hiding in a corner, laughing the loudest, earnestly discussing the Superbowl prospects of her favorite team, getting drunk for drunk’s sake…?
And now that you have all of this fodder, try to focus in on these characters in pairs. They can be from different stories, even, but let them have a conversation. What would they talk about? What would the character share about his/her life with a person from a different story? What would they say about their own stories?
I am really excited to do this one! I can hear the glasses clinking and the smokers heading outside, and the one who MUST tell the story of the trip they took to Africa, and the one who is rustling through the coats…
Cheers! And good luck!
That place downtown?
Yeah. Not available.
CURSES! FOILED AGAIN!
And now a cleansing breath. And now a positive attitude? And a possible aversion to blabbing my business all over the blog-o-sphere because I am apparently jinxing myself?
Well, no. Although I have some belief in hoo-doo, luck, and spirit worlds and the like, I’m going to go ahead and share the latest development in reception places.
I have been driving past this little place like three or four times a week and the thought would occur to me: “That place is cute. Maybe I should check it out.” And then I continue on about my business and forget about it as soon as I get out of the car. But when that place downtown (after the guy totally led me on about how I was first on the list and November 9th was a very real possibility and blah blah blah) fell through last night, this other place jumped to the front of my brain. Finally, at the prompting of my friend, Rebecca, I emailed them to ask if it was available.
Here’s what they said(!):
“Our rate for private events is $200 per hour and only during nonbusiness hours (before 4 pm). If you would like to have the event during business hours, there is no charge but it can’t be a private event. If it is a private event, you’re welcome to decorate, bring in food, provide entertainment and all ages are ok as long as minors are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Our capacity is 75 inside, and 300 outside.
Just let us know if you’re looking for a private event or would like to have the event during normal business hours. We do have a private area we could reserve on the patio during business hours for no charge.
SO! Now I’m all like “yes! this could really work!”
But my business analyst brain is in overdrive thinking of the possible if/thens.
My ceremony is currently scheduled to take place in mid-town from 3:00 – 4:30.
If we keep this time, then we can (very Bud & Sissy-esquely) crowd on to the porch of this place and have a little shindig with whomever wants to join us back there.
If we do that, then I need to ask about bringing in food, if we can have a dj and/or mariachis show up, what’s the deal with paying for drinks for the people in our group, and let people know that kids can’t come.
OR we could stop at the house, eat, and move as a group to this place leaving the kids with a babysitter at the house, to be retrieved later.
OR (and I’m going to lean toward this one in the short term) I can see if I can move the ceremony to, say, noon. Then, we could all arrive at this place around 1-ish. We can eat and drink and be merry to our hearts delight until 4 (for only $600!). We can arrange for food and kids to be shuttled off to the house (very nearby, btw), and move ourselves to the back porch area, where we can continue to carry on with the celebrations, albeit in a more open to the community way. We may still want to figure out a way to have “our” music, if the venue is cool with that, as long as it’s not too loud or too competitive with the jukebox. Or heck, maybe we’ll just pour a bunch of money into the jukebox and dance the night away like a real honky tonk!
And now, I’m suddenly freeing up my brain to think about decorations and other things on my to-do list like, I don’t know…invitations???!!! They need to go out ASAP!
Another cleansing breath. Whew. Maybe this is going to happen, after all!